Bristol, Tenn., — It was a wild night and a blast from the past in Thunder Valley where Denny Hamlin came out victorious in Saturday’s IRWIN Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
“It’s my biggest win so far,” said Hamlin in victory lane. “This is such a great feeling.”
Hamlin was able to get around Carl Edwards with an old school slide job as the laps ticked down to drive away toward the checkered flag.
“That’s what you had to do,” Hamlin said. “The only thing you could do was slide jobs.”
“Bruton (Smith, track owner) ground the track, but we had the old Bristol here,” added Hamlin. “It’s one line, you still have to knock someone out of the way to make a move.”
There was slapping sheet metal, showers of sparks, and helmets flying during the 500 laps on the historic short track. Hamlin said the grinding of the track allowed for tremendous grip.
“Our car was so phenomenal on the bottom all day,” Hamlin said. “We made most of our passes without touching a soul and I just knew I had to get to the front as soon as possible in case a caution came out.”
“This is just a big day, this is just a big win, I don’t know how else to explain it,” added Hamlin. “It’s Bristol.”
Jimmie Johnson finished second, after starting at the back of the pack.
“It was a very solid effort,” said Johnson. “We messed up in practice and had to start in the back.”
“We really had a great strategy and fast car and made the most of it today,” Johnson added.
Third place finisher Jeff Gordon thought the race was reminiscent of the early 90s.
“Well I don’t know how many people were here that remember like 1991, 1992, I remember standing up on top of the suites in the spotter stand watching DW (Darrell Waltrip) run a line like we were running tonight,” Gordon said. “It was a heck of a battle then and I thought it was a heck of a race tonight.”
“Who would have thought grinding that race track would have turned into what it did,” added Gordon. “Guys kept creeping up there and laying rubber. The rest of the track is so abrasive it doesn’t lay rubber.”
Gordon said it was smooth where the tires started laying rubber and against the wall it had more grip than on the bottom.
“I think that tells you something,” Gordon said. “Back several years ago they ground the bottom at Martinsville and it made the outer groove better, so maybe they need to grind and make it really abrasive up there if they don’t want us to go up there.”
Brian Vickers finished fourth and Marcos Ambrose finished fifth.
“That’s two top-fives in two weeks for us,” said Ambrose. “It’s been a great month.”
“We had a fast car and just had to play it out,” Ambrose added. “We just had to keep track position.”
Kyle Busch finished sixth, Clint Bowyer was seventh, Joey Logano was eighth, and Kasey Kahne finished ninth. Paul Menard rounded out the top-10.
Greg Biffle, Johnson, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr., all clinched Chase for the Sprint Cup positions. Matt Kenseth is fourth (-26) and has clinched at least a wild card position in the Chase. Martin Truex, Jr., is fifth (-52), and Clint Bowyer is sixth 55 points back. Brad Keselowski is seventh 59 points back, Hamlin is eighth (-75), Kevin Harvick is ninth (-82) and Tony Stewart holds on to the final spot only 16 points ahead of 11th.
Hamlin and Stewart look to be in good shape for at least wild card positions with three wins, but Kasey Kahne and Kyle Busch hold the wild card positions hoping Hamlin and Stewart can stay in the top-10. Jeff Gordon is still not out of wild card contention only 16 points behind Busch, Ryan Newman is 18 points back, and Ambrose is 28 points behind.
Other news from the IRWIN Tools Night Race:
Keselowski had issues at the midpoint of the race. The first issue came when Vickers had a tire issue forcing Keselowski to check up and hit the wall with the right front, but Keselowski continued for a few laps before having an issue with the tire before getting a nudge from Bobby Labonte. Keselowski spun down to the inside wall and made hard contact causing significant damage on lap 270.
“Something happened to the 55 car, Brian Vickers, and he checked-up,” said Keselowski. “I couldn’t go anywhere and got hit from behind and it put me into the fence. Not really anybody’s fault. It’s just a combination of factors of the way the racing is now here. We got caught up in it.”
A costly mistake for Earnhardt foiled a shot at a better finish than 12th, but Earnhardt did clinch a spot in the Chase. Earnhardt said the team has continued to work hard all season and continue to make the right strategy calls. The No. 88 was fast, but track position hindered forward progress.
“I made a little mistake and came down a closed pit tonight,” said Earnhardt. “I don’t know what we were thinking. We just lost that track position and couldn’t get by some guys. I had fun, though. I don’t know what the fans thought about the race. But, I really enjoyed it.”